Declaration of the Congreso de Unidad de la Cadena Lactea Nacional
(National Association of Milk Producers)
Bogotá, 24 November, 2010
(Translated by Elaine Fuller, a CSN Volunteer Translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, CSN's Volunteer Editor)
The national milk producer's network is threatened and on the verge of falling into ruin because of public policies adjusted to treaties and commitments to the free market. It is also because of the official permissive attitude toward abuses by industrial oligopolies (who control the pasteurization process) against the producers, and because of imports and the smuggling of various products, especially whey.
Of the 500,000 Colombian cattle ranchers who own their own property, 65 percent possess less than eight animals and produce six and a half billion liters of fresh milk annually, a volume sufficient to supply the national market. Of this production, 47 percent is delivered to industrial businesses and 43 percent is sold through popular milk channels in the form of raw milk. These outlets distribute seven and a half million liters daily, which are consumed by 19 million Colombians either as milk products of small and medium-sized factories or boiled en their homes. The remaining10% of Colombian production is consumed on the ranches themselves.
The large processing firms are interested in acquiring the production of the popular milk producers network. It is also the purpose of the Colombian government to help them, using the argument of sanitary requirements by the World Trade Organization with the intention of declaring the trade, consumption and transport of raw milk to be illegal. Evidently, the government's purpose is to make the market more concentrated and leave small producers without any defense against the businesses that pasteurize milk. Outstanding among these are subsidiaries of the principal milk supply companies of the world such as Fonterra, Nestle, Danone, Friesland, Dairy Partners and Parmalat.
Even the Food and Agriculture Organization has said that these "big companies are becoming even more so and have increased their rate of expansion outside their own country's borders." The FAO has described "the mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances as a sign of the times." Colombia is part of those companies' plans and our government is facilitating them, not only with the persecution of popular trade, but with negotiations of treaties for free trade such as those already concluded with the United States, the European Union, MERCOSUR (the common market of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, with which Colombia has associate member status) and Switzerland, among the most relevant. The extension of these companies' reach is guaranteed by subsidies they receive; subsidies that in Europe total 16 billon Euros annually and that in the United States are equivalent to 48% of the purchase price of their product. The annual net earnings on milk and milk products of these aforementioned transnational firms, including mergers and acquisitions are already exorbitant.
On the other hand, the Colombian producers see their costs rising, are subject to input prices they cannot pay, to exacerbated tariffs and taxes, and to selling prices that are depressed. The governmental decision taken in the past few years is to convert Colombia into an importer of milk, even at the cost of sacrificing the income and employment of millions of persons who are not able to resist the aggressive foreign assault. The publicized report by CONPES (Consejo Nacional de Politica, Económica y Social), in a section on agriculture and income security, recognizes the trend described above in its recommendation for the reconversion to different activities that will not be identified as "production of the workshop of the world." The bottom line of such disastrous proposals is that they affect the work of at least five million people including ranch owners, workers on those ranches as well as others in the sector, merchants, producers of inputs such as cattle feed, transporters, sellers, tractor operators, dock workers and their assistants, among many others. The same disastrous course has been followed in other sectors -- grains, cotton, soy, confections and others -- during the two decades of the policy of free trade.
Given this dimension of the crisis, the National Milk Producers Congress of Unity constitutes a bastion of defense for the interests of the milk sector along side political forces, trade unions and supporters of democracy -- all who are interested in making common cause in order that national food security and the work of Colombians prevail over negotiations between transnational businesses and public officials.
Therefore, we call for organizing and mobilizing ourselves towards a public policy for our sector that can be synthesized by the following points:
Fulfillment of Article 65 of the Constitution that protects the national production of milk at a level of self-sufficiency and that, as consequence, impedes imports of whey, powered milk and milk by-products.
Defense of sovereignty and food security for all Colombian homes.
Repeal of the decrees that prohibit trade and transportation of raw milk. This would be accompanied with adequate sanitary policies that guarantee harmlessness and good performance of this part of the supply chain primarily in benefit of consumers and those of low income.
Technical and financial support with effective mechanisms and easy access for producers and national merchants without exception, giving priority to those of small and medium size.
Promote the consumption of national milk and milk products by means of massive advertising campaigns through social networks and state purchasing agents (the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare and other such entities) who guarantee the consumption of the national product and maintain nutrition programs in periods of abundance and school vacations.
State control of conditions in the milk market in terms of price and quality so that they will be respected by industrial enterprises in all circumstances and locales. The government should put into effect for such purposes an independent network of certification laboratories.
Intervention in terms of input prices and warehousing of surplus production that may allow at certain times the creation of tax incentives and the revision of taxes and obligations that affect national milk production.
Negation by the Congress of the Republic of the iniquitous inequalities in all areas dictated by the Free Trade Agreement with the European Union and in addition, demands their exclusion from matters of agricultural trade and other relations in treaties already adopted.